Caregiver identity is subject to change — especially if you spend years caring for a #dementia patient. Some days I barely recognize myself as the person I was at the start of my mom’s illness. This week I plan to resurrect my “old self”, if only for an hour or two. On Tuesday I’m leading a Girl Scout workshop about voting.
As the Presidential election approaches, I recall how much I used to enjoy researching the candidates and talking about political issues. Maybe it’s me — or maybe it’s the candidates — but today I’m turned off by the constant media coverage. However, I still think it’s important for young people to vote. I want to help them learn how to register. I also want to teach them how to evaluate candidates and understand their platforms.
Back in the old days, I was immersed in civic issues. The declining quality of public schools disturbed me so I got involved in education reform. These days, my caregiver identity casts a shadow over other concerns. I still worry about schools, but now I have a stronger interest in health care and services for the elderly. I want to help the Girl Scout group understand how the Presidential election can influence all these critical matters.
Me Before You
My life was totally different before I became my mother’s #caregiver. I traveled across the country and around the world as I pursued my writing career. Freedom of choice was important to me. The limits of my choices were set by my bank account and my physical stamina. Physical stamina is still an important issue, but for completely different reasons. Most of my daily energy is spent supporting my mom. I lift her, hold her, and help her all day long — and during the wee hours.
Sometimes I miss my old life, but I recognize that being a #caregiver has made me a more compassionate, loving person. When your world is focused on someone else’s well-being, you can’t avoid being changed by the experience.
Every now and then I long to feel some fragment of “old me”: racing to catch a plane or planning an international trip. This week I’ll give myself the treat of one brief hour as “old me” during the #Girl Scout workshop. Can you still remember what it was like to be the “old you”? Is there one thing you could do this week to let your former self out of the box?
Caregivers need sleep for one crucial reason: All humans must sleep, it’s a biological necessity. #Caregivers, however, may also have risk factors that increase the importance of getting enough sleep.
Current research suggests that toxins are removed from our brains while we’re sleeping. The risk of Alzheimer’s rises if the brain’s cleaning equipment can’t de-tox our neural networks. If you believe you might have inherited the gene for dementia, you have an even greater need to protect your brain’s health. In a University of Toronto study which included people who carried the APOE-E4 gene, participants who “slept most soundly showed the greatest preservation of memory and thinking skills. Among study participants who died, the poor sleepers were more likely to exhibit the characteristic brain plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Like many #caregivers I get up at night to attend to my mom. I wake in the wee hours, walk to her room, and change her. If I’m lucky, the process goes smoothly and I can crawl under the covers and slide back into the dream waiting at my pillow. But I’m not always lucky. If I pinch my arm in the bed rail or remember some annoying task that should have been done, I’m suddenly wide awake and far from slumber. Few things more aggravating than lying awake when you know you need rest.
Ideas for Caregivers who need Sleep
I have a few tools that can help me fall back to sleep. They are not 100% foolproof but they help.
- Sometimes I use a very simple yoga posture called Child’s Pose. You sit with your face down on the floor and your arms out in front. Here’s a photo. This position is very relaxing and I often feel like I might fall asleep with my face in the carpet.
- You can try to relax by doing a Forward Bend. Just sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and reach for your toes. You don’t actually have to touch your toes, just aim in that direction with your face looking toward your legs. Click this link to see an example.
- If I’m concerned about missing sleep for several nights, I use a relaxation CD called Relax into Greatness about one hour before bed. This recording explains that there is a difference between sleep and relaxation. Sometimes we can fall asleep but our body is not relaxed. If we’re not relaxed, we may not enjoy that nourishing level of sleep we need. The guided meditation on this CD relaxes you head to toe. When I listen to it before bedtime, I fall into deeper sleep and wake up really refreshed. This is especially good for people with chronic insomnia or PTSD.
Of course there are nights when none of these things work. If you have some effective methods of getting back to sleep, please share them so other #tired caregivers can benefit, too!